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Your Career in Computer Graphics: Taking Calculated Risks

This lesson is a part of an audio course Your Career in Computer Graphics by Eric Carlsen

In the last lesson, we discussed ways to achieve financial stability. Now, we'll dig into the idea of taking calculated risks.

There can be great power in taking risks in one's career. Taking a risk, or setting out on an adventure, can vault you into new possibilities. A little pressure and uncertainty can force us to rise to the occasion, become stronger than before, and avoid complacency.

We're going to look at some examples of these risks and how to do them in a way that maximizes your odds of success.

First, let's talk about complacency. Complacency can happen when you're working just for work's sake, aren't taking any risks, or trying many new things. Just sinking back into a metaphorical Easy-Boy and setting your life on cruise control.

In this mode, your skills start to wane. You may get too comfortable with your job and start repeating the same techniques and approaches because you know they'll get the job done, albeit in an uninspired way.

Getting too comfortable could mean you're not learning as much, so if your job was ever in jeopardy, you might really struggle to find something else. Even if you have no interest in leaving your position, it's important to not get complacent – it's important to try and find other ways to keep up with your skills and with networking. As a financial guru, Dave Ramsey puts it, job security is a myth. If you're not doing something to keep up with the change in business, you will be unemployed."

Let's look at some examples of risks that paid off. Not to "alienate" anyone (pun intended), but here's a Star Trek reference – in the episode "Tapestry" from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard gets the chance to look back at his youth and see if being less rebellious and more cautious could have changed his life for the better. As it turns out, his boldness and risk-taking were actually pivotal in him ending up as captain of the USS Enterprise.

I'm not the captain of a starship, but my story also involves some risk. After graduating college, I took a risk in moving to Boston and taking out a massive loan to go through a one-year 3D animation certificate program. Suddenly in a new place where I knew few people and felt a lot of pressure to make the expense worth it, after already having gotten a degree, I applied myself like never before, finally learned how to budget, and pushed through the awkwardness of networking to land a great job.

Lead Concept Artist Sean Higgins talked about how he and his wife made a leap of their own. They decided it was time for a fresh start, so they packed up, moved several states away, and this led to a total revamp of Sean's career, launching him into doing work that he truly loves. In his interview on the CG Chatter Podcast, Sean said, "I hear about a lot of people that find themselves in careers that they love and paths that they love, and they almost all say that at some point there's some sort of leap of faith...a jump...or a plunge…"

While risks and leaps of faith can present tremendous opportunities for growth and change, it's ideal to make them calculated risks.

Character Animator Mike Taylor worked incredibly hard to get an online animation education at night while still working a job in order to then launch off into a new career. For me, I had the very clear goal of adding 3D animation to my skill set and getting connected to a job in Boston, which focused my energies when I took out that loan and went back to school.

Now sometimes, you will be thrust into a situation you weren't expecting and where you feel totally unprepared and just have to make it work, and a lot of growth can come from that. Like being laid off and having to come up with a new career plan. But as much as you can, try and prepare before you take any major leaps, to maximize your odds of success.

Your task: Take a look at your current career. Are you feeling challenged, invigorated, and like you're always learning? Or do you maybe feel a bit too comfortable, and sometimes like you're just coasting in order to bring in a paycheck?

If the latter, it may be time to jumpstart things. Is it time to take some new classes or seek out more challenging work? Or is it time for something big like a career change or a move? Or switching from a full-time job to being a freelancer?

If you think it may be time for a bigger shakeup, do your best to plan and prepare as much as possible before you jump. To once again quote Dave Ramsey, he says, "I want the boat pulled as close to the dock as you can get it, so that when you make the jump from the dock to the boat, you don't hit the water."

In the next lesson, we'll look at ways to avoid burnout.

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Written by

Eric Carlsen